Part Twelve: Pattern Entry
Chapter Sixty-five -- Checkmate
The dawn broke clear and brisk. The residents of New Macross, having feasted during their short holiday, arose to begin the stretch run into the Christmas Season. Shops bustled, airliners lifted off into the cold sky, and optimism slowly gained traction among a war weary people. Back in Texas, I wrapped up a day of classes and hit the gym for a game of racquetball with some of my professor friends, Ira Franz-Josef, Alonzo Sosa, and Ted Riel. Playing against men senior to me by at least a decade was more than adequate to compensate for my balky knee. I won my fair share of competitive games, regaining lost stamina in the process. It was great exercise and I learned a lot from these men regarding the best ways to navigate the maze of the traditionally bureaucratic university system. After half an hour sweating in the sauna and a quick shower, I headed off to eat dinner. I had been completely unplugged from the world. James’ phone call to my room jolted me to reality.
“You might wanna’ give your folks a call and check on ‘em dude. Macross City just got hit by a rebel raid. Wiped out the airport and everything. Turn on the TV and look.”
I grabbed the remote. “I’ll call you back.”
Frantically I dialed my dad’s phone. My heart was in my throat as the ringer buzzed in my ear.
“Dad! You all right?”
“Fine, fine. Everything is good. Why?” he asked, sounded perplexed.
“A buddy just told me Macross City got hit.”
“What? No. No, no, no. Monument City got hit. Everyone here is okay,” he said. “I wasn’t flying today so I’m home.”
“Huh? What happened, again? I’m confused here,” I blurted.
“Some Zentraedi hit Monument City Regional and the Reserve unit there. Nothing major. Maybe a half dozen powered armor or so at most. There were some casualties but it wasn’t catastrophic. A pinprick, as callous as that sounds.”
My dad continued, “Sounds like your old boss Rick Hunter had his hand in it.”
“Yeah, his name is all over the news down here.”
As the facts would show later, Rick was in town on a personal matter, having flown his privately-owned aircraft in for the day. Shortly after the raid hit, he commandeered a Destroid from the depot and coordinated a counterattack that stopped the carnage. It was another remarkable story in the “Legend of the Big Three” (Sterling, Fokker, Hunter) that only added to Rick’s mostly well-deserved favor with the brass. No matter what the circumstance--so long as it was extraordinary--my former CAG always seemed to be in the mix. The man led quite the amazing life.
I was worried. “You guys need to get the hell out of that place. Come back to Texas and be done with it.”
“Agreed. Working on it.”
I chatted with the old man for more than an hour, as we always did when we got on the phone with each other. He was a great guy, and no matter the issue, always had an insightful, prescient thought. He was the greatest man I ever knew.
I set James straight on the facts after hanging up with my dad. I was still in a minor funk and continued my second-guessing about recent life choices. I wondered if I was right and allowed guilt (my mom always called it “that damned Catholic conscience”) to weigh heavily on my soul. Still, I had to press ahead for my family. It was too late for second guesses. Perhaps there was a twinge of selfishness lurking there in my justifications as well. Some of my youth was bypassed to fight. This was a chance to reclaim some of that while doing something good in the process. I rationalized that my kids were going to be fine either way and would grow up to see that I did it for them. Time would tell if it was a delusion. I prayed it wasn’t.
Cold front. Flawed date with a pretty brunette. Campout. Final exams. The semester ended in a flurry of activity and a Grade Point Average of 4.0 indicated something of substance, though I wasn’t about to definitively say just what. Was it effort combined with intelligence, or just an easy damned school? I chuckled as I boarded a Southwest flight out of Dallas for New Macross City, my dad’s words echoing in my head. A kill is a kill.
After an eternity of nervous fidgeting the jet touched down, pulled to the gate, and disembarked its passengers. Husky met me at the airport with Harriska and the girls and it was the happiest moment of my life to that point.
Seeing my daughters running up to me, hair flying in their collective wake, was a thrill. They were growing up. They had taken the time to look their best to welcome their dad home, and the effort was not lost on me. I scooped them up and hugged them, getting a boatload of cheek kisses as I carried them down the corridor.
Christmas was in the air as colored lights, tinsel-draped street lamps, fir wreaths, and trees emphasized the festive mood with an astonishing vividness. Grizzled and hardened with the fire of their collective ordeal, the citizens of New Macross showed incredible fortitude, resilience. One would likely not have expected to hear bells ringing or carolers singing, but nothing could stop the human spirit from shining forth. New Macross made me proud and happy as we drove through town on our way home. These people were as tough as a pair of Ariat boots. I loved them and their collective grit.
Mom was thrilled to see me and acted half her age as she bounded over to kiss her “baby boy” on the cheek. Dad’s eyes had a twinkle that I knew was pride as he hugged me. It was a great compliment to have parents like them. I threw my things in the guest room before taking my usual seat near the fireplace. It was a comfort to be home. As the fire crackled and the warming glow washed over me questions were fielded while others were thrown the other way until late in the evening when I drifted off to a peaceful sleep.
Records, transcripts, bridge/flightdeck/CVR recordings, and testimony obtained years later (through the tireless efforts of Dr. Aubry Thonon) would bring to light the truth of events the following day that were nightmare-worthy. I present them to the reader in sanitized form. My heart cannot write of the events in their full horror.
“Reflex furnaces are stable, sir.”
Captain Romgyn Agar smiled to himself as he waved a gloved hand at the engineer on screen. “Very well. Navigation!”
“Sir?” replied a man behind the Zentraedi commander.
“Plot course on main screen.”
A picture of the moon appeared in front of Agar. He tugged the glove on his right hand which covered a jagged scar--a souvenir he inherited from my now-departed friend and wingman Waylan Green--after an attack on his ship caused shrapnel to fly through the bridge. Six inches either direction would have slain the then-First Officer of the doomed Zentraedi cruiser, but fate is a fickle mistress. Though nearly everyone nearby was killed, she let Agar off the hook, and when Khyron offered him a shot at payback, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“All right,” he growled to himself in a bass voice. “Ahead one-third.”
This will be like shooting fish in a barrel, as Breetai would say.
Khyron and Azonia entered the bridge of their ship fresh from their final intimacy, invigorated by the feelings that proceed forth from impending victory. The SDF-1, long the bane of Khyron’s existence, sat alone, defenseless, and rotting in the lake that marked the center of New Macross, its location and condition not even a secret any longer. The RDF’s paradigm had dramatically shifted.
Khyron’s plan to destroy the SDF-1 before departing Earth to rejoin the Robotech Masters came as a shock to everyone, even Azonia. But the brazenness--the finality--of his plan was enticing, particularly when bathed in the light of his unique charisma. There were no objections.
Admiral Gloval and the RDF High Command, meanwhile, were thinking along similar lines. After much debate it had been decided that the best defense was a good offense.
After Leonard Plog’s near total destruction of the Zentraedi in South America--to this day one of the most brilliant military campaigns ever waged--the only known threats that remained were the enemy’s ships in or near the Solar System. Most of these had fled, limping off to their home world never to return. Like a ship’s wake on the ocean, however, these vessels left a way to track them. It was hoped they would lead the RDF to the home world of the Robotech Masters and by doing so move the battlefield to enemy territory for the first time.
The Robotech Masters, the bedraggled puppet masters of the Zentraedi, were facing the imminent demise of their power structure. Although Earth was unaware of the reasons behind it--namely diminishing stocks of their Protoculture fuel source (Zor, the deceased scientist and architect of SDF-1, was the only one who fully understood the secrets of Protoculture and its manufacture and had sent the vessel away to keep the Masters’ evil empire from continuing)--their weakened force structure was evident in Breetai’s and Exedore’s intelligence analysis as well as the lack of an encore to Dolza’s Rain of Death. If ever there was a time to find them and perhaps strike back with a fatal blow, it was now.
The SDF-1 was effectively retired. Breetai and Dolza had begun cobbling together what they could of a Zentraedi fleet to serve as escort for the mission. SDF-2, a new and improved battle fortress, had been secretly commissioned on Moon Base Alice. Construction of the new vessel had taken less time than expected, and proved a remarkable achievement. Systems testing in space dock was likewise completed ahead of schedule. Proving runs with members of a composite Air Wing and Ship Test Group would find and flatten the wrinkles while the permanent ship’s compliment and fighter squadrons worked up to speed both on Earth and in space.
Lisa Hayes, the long-time SDF-1 First Officer, had been informed by Gloval, now SDF-2’s Space Task Force Commander, of the intended strategic details and, to her shock, that she would take command of the new battle fortress. The ambitious plan to attack the Masters on their home turf had been moved forward by several months and there was little time to waste.
Aboard SDF-1 in the Remote Command Center (RCC) for SDF-2, Lisa Hayes and the Bridge Bunnies began to work their magic in bringing the new ship to life before shuttling to the Moon Base for the launch. They had no idea what lay ahead of them.
When Khyron’s initial salvo hit, Lisa was saying goodbye to Rick Hunter at his home in New Macross. Their love affair had been rumored, but mostly dismissed--as it never seemed to affect their performance most of us concluded it was none of our business. Explosions erupted all around them and they rushed to the SDF-1 to do battle.
Hunter’s Skull One, already enshrined in the lines of history as one of the most iconic fighter planes ever, stood regally on the tarmac near the ship, unbowed through years of wearying combat. His plane captain stood ready to assist as Hunter bounded up the ladder to charge into the inferno once more. Secured to his fighter, Rick gave a nod and a thumbs up, closed the canopy, and with a push of the thrust levers, taxied out of the ramp before hurtling into the sky to lead the Valkyries that had launched ahead of him.
From the RCC Lisa’s bridge crew had sorted through the confusion, working to get things moving on their own initiative.
"Alright, Vanessa, I'm here. Give me a quick status report," Lisa ordered as she entered the command center.
With practiced precision, Vanessa took in information from multiple sources and instantly translated it into a succinct status report for her boss. "A single battle cruiser, ten degrees southwest, present position 27 miles but closing in very fast."
Lisa nodded knowingly, her face completely calm despite the certain realization they were as good as dead.
(As previously mentioned, the remainder of what happened in the battle between these large ships was gleaned in large part from eyewitness testimony, interviews, and reconstruction of the Video and Flight Data Recorders aboard each. It has been sanitized by this author for the sake of the reader.)
Grel turned to Khyron. “SDF-1 now coming into range, sir.”
“Main gun at full power and standing by,” Azonia added.
Khyron beamed with smug satisfaction. He could have traded places with Fuchida a century before and said, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” had a time machine been available. The emotions, if not the circumstances, were eerily similar.
“My revenge is well worth waiting for. Admiral Gloval is going to wish he’d never heard of me!”
Khyron turned to Azonia and ordered the fateful command. “Fire!”
Seated just below Lisa and Vanessa were Kim and Sammie. They, too, continued to feed information up to their commander as to the status of Khryon’s ship. “Range now twenty miles.”
“I’m getting high level radiation readings!” Kim blurted out, eyes wide in shock.
Vanessa’s reply was instantaneous. “They’re firing on us Captain!”
Lisa instinctively braced herself for what she knew was coming. A raging inferno of light erupted from Khyron’s ship. Azonia’s well placed shot hit the lower torso of the SDF-1 and shook the battle fortress and everything inside it with inescapable violence. Ship’s crew in the sections hit were simultaneously immolated and impaled--smashed into pulp that vaporized in the heat--or compressed into nothing in the blink of an eye. Others further away were bashed, burned, or dismembered, left to die more slowly, but winding up just as dead.
While Khyron bore down on the SDF-1, Agar was doing his part against SDF-2. Like a cat after a bird, he moved in ready to pounce, unseen and unheard. Having timed everything perfectly, he allowed himself a smile. “
Fire!” came the command through the speakers on Agar’s bridge. He turned to his Second and repeated the order. “Fire!”
At this point things became completely chaotic for the Terran defenders. Multiple transmissions were coming in stating that both SDF-1 and SDF-2 had been ht. The fighter pilots forming up in ragged pairs could only imagine the destruction being wrought. Some even commented. One of Rick’s wingmen sent chills through every spine when he hollered, “Sir! They’re listing! They’re sinking, Captain!”
Listing? Sinking? SDF-2? What? He thought. As he looked over his left shoulder he could only think of one word. Shit.
The Tac Net exploded in confusion. Rick jumped across multiple frequencies trying to sort the chaos, knowing Lisa was aboard SDF-1 in the RCC. SDF-2 and Apollo Base had gone off the air. The cries for help flooded his earphones.
Then, after all that time keeping it suppressed--professional--things got personal.
God, please don’t let her be dead. With a clench of the fist he reached for the thrust levers, nodded a “follow me” to his wingmen, and accelerated toward Khyron’s ship. I’ll ram the mother fucker if I have to, gawdamnit!
In the RCC it was chaos. Lisa tried to rally damage control parties and medical teams, but as fire retardant sprayed down from the ceiling she realized the situation was already hopeless.
Kim and Vanessa reported a stream of system failures.
It was over.
Lisa gave a moment’s pause, searching for something--anything--then, gabbed a confused Vanessa by the arm shouted, “Of course! Admiral Gloval! Come on!!”
As Lisa and Vanessa disappeared through the hatchway Sammie shared a confused look at Kim.
“Where’s she going?”
Kim, never one to suffer fools lightly, shoved Sammie along. “Oh, don’t ask questions, just follow her!”
In the glow of emergency lighting the foursome made their way to an elevator with access to the SDF-1’s bridge. The shouting of firemen and medics halted abruptly with the closing of the doors.
The Tac Net buzz caught the attention of my old friend from the hospital ship, Emmanuel “E6B” Bureau. The intrepid ace and infamous victim of an F-5 “Freedom Fighter” was on a training sortie with a four-ship of VF-1As. He knew immediately what to do.
“Knock it off! Knock it off! Knock it off!” he ordered in French-marinated English. “Cuda Team form on me, echelon right.”
The three Valkyries joined quickly on their leader, bouncing in the cool air only feet away from one another. With a glance over each shoulder, Lieutenant Bureau turned his fighters toward Khyron’s marauding alien ship, afterburner plumes and sonic cones erupting behind him.
Lisa and her charges made their way to the SDF-1’s bridge and were greeted by the familiar bossiness of Claudia Grant. Gloval, too, was impatient.
“Don’t just stand there--we have a job to do!”
Everyone knew instantly what that meant. When pressed if it was possible for the war weary, near-derelict SDF-1 to still fly, Gloval responded with his typical nonchalant command presence.
“Well there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
Lisa was on to the most vital consideration of their bold action in a flash. "Yes, but what about the weapons, sir? Will they work?" she asked.
"They should--as long as the power supply holds up."
"What about the Main Gun, sir?"
"Enough power for one firing. We'll have to make sure it's effective." He looked around the bridge with the eyes of a lion. "Okay, battle stations."
Agar’s attack on SDF-2 was swift and merciless. The ship and its small compliment never had a chance against him and he savaged them with impunity. It was over quickly.
As he took a furtive glance at the shredded remains of SDF-2 on the main screen he grimaced in spite of himself. He could do nothing for Khyron now and, vengeance satiated, turned to a new threat bearing down on him.
A pair of Ophelia-class spaceships was closing fast and he had to move quickly if he were to make the fold jump to Tirol. He could stand his ground and fight--and most likely win. But to do so would deplete his power reserves and leave him stranded in Earth space.
He was not a true believer in the sense that Khyron was.
No. It is time to go.
“Prepare for space fold!” he commanded.
"Lead, you're super."
E6B looked at the airspeed indicator on his Heads Up Display and saw it moving past Mach One. The wingman's warning was in keeping with the restriction on supersonic flight outside of the Military Operations Area, but there was no point in that now.
Lieutenant Bureau briefed his small contingent of Valkyries as they raced in from the Western Training Range toward the threat. As a grizzled combat veteran and Fighter Weapons Instructor, "Sixby" (as he was usually called), knew what to say to his charges. He gave them guidance without overloading them. The old warning against having "too many penguins on your iceberg" was never more appropriate than now, and he made sure his pilots had clear, concise objectives to enhance their already dim prospects for success.
With nothing aboard but half empty gunpods and a handful of inert practice missiles they could provide little resistance. But, like the attacks mounted by Taffy 3’s escort carrier aircraft against Admiral Kurita’s superior battleship-led force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II, they had an effect. As Cuda Team, unseen and unnoticed, tore into the alien vessel’s bridge with glancing blows Khyron’s men blinked. This bought time and wrought confusion just long enough for Rick’s group to enter the fray.
With full confidence, Admiral Gloval ordered the SDF-1 airborne. Having been with the ship longer than anyone still living, he knew deep in his soul the old girl still had one more fight left in her. “Take her up.”
The ship shuddered and rumbled. Water in the lake cavitated, boiled, and steamed furiously as the gallant vessel rose slowly into the sky. On the ground people gawked in stunned amazement at the sight of their valiant protector’s determined climb skyward.
The rumbling under my feet as I stood in the kitchen with my mom caused the hair on my neck to stand up. Earthquake?
I rushed outside to see what was happening and saw the twin booms of the main gun rising above the treeline behind my parents’ house. Electical activity sparkled between those booms and I muttered, transfixed by what I was witnessing, “This can’t be good.”
The Valkyrie Teams continued their furiously futile assault on Khyron’s ship, taking out as many guns as possible.
The IFF indicator for Skull One showed on Lisa’s radar screen. With a start she shook her head reflexively for an instant. “Rick Hunter, is that you?"
“Lisa! I must be hearing things!"
"No you aren't. I'm aboard the SDF-1, Rick. We're preparing to fire the Main Gun, so I strongly suggest you get out of there."
"You don't have to tell me twice."
Lisa’s warning to clear out was not heeded quickly enough for her comfort. With a voice swelling with anxiety she shouted emphatically in spite of herself, "Hurry up, Veritechs! The firing sequence is already engaged!"
The pilots in the fight realized what was coming and darted off in Overboost, leaning on their thrust levers for all they were worth. The common thought among them was tinged with a sense of dark humor: Let them change the damned engines if they melt!
Hunter came off the target to the east with Max and Miriya flying top cover. Bureau took his team vertically into a max performance climb to get as high as he could in thirty seconds then turned south. Other stragglers sprinted out of the area in all directions in a race against time.
With the enemy cruiser dead to rights the Main Gun fired. But, like a worn water nozzle the beam flared, resulting in a shot that was not as concentrated as it should have been. Instead of hitting Khyron’s ship dead center much of the energy went wide. As pieces of the Main Gun crumbled and fell, Khryon’s vessel took a glancing blow and caught fire. It was not enough.
Its energy state critically low, I watched the SDF-1 in wide-eyed amazement as it dropped behind the trees. It landed in the lake with a rumble and the groan of metal, a geyser of water cascading into the air in all directions.
In the distance the Zentraedi ship barreled in without slowing.
Grel was on the floor near death. The bridge was smashed and the few screens that still worked flashed ominous messages about the state of the Zentraedi cruiser. Bloodied but undeterred, Khryon and Azonia came to the only available conclusion. Their ship was mortally wounded and nearly devoid of functioning offensive weaponry. So, too, was the state of SDF-1.
"They're helpless. Get them!" Azonia shrieked.
"Hmmm... we both will." Khyron clenched his teeth, then took her by the hand. "It requires a sacrifice. Are you willing to face it with me Azonia?"
"It will be glorious.”
The warrior’s rush welled within him. "Yes...” he hissed. “Glorious."
With all the power remaining, Khyron's cruiser dove headlong into SDF-1, impacting at the left shoulder and rending it completely from the rest of the Battle Fortress. The Zentraedi vessel’s back broke apart and the main engines drove themselves right through the bridge where Gloval and crew stood defiantly.
An instant before they smashed into the ground beyond the lake, Khyron and Azonia yelled lustily in triumph, “VICTORY!!!”
Ahab had caught his whale.
Jason W. Smith
Copyright © 1995 by Jason W. Smith
(Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual events, persons, etc. is coincidental--even if intentionally so! --June 1995)
Based on characters and situations from
Robotech, © 1985 Harmony Gold, USA, Inc.
Robotech (R) is the property of Harmony Gold. This document is in no way intended to infringe upon their rights. The author has not accepted any remuneration for this work.HTML by Robert Morgenstern
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